Public Bike share system launched in Budapest. Lessons learned in other cities.

Bike share in Budapest

Bike share systems continue to be rolled out across the globe. There are over 600 systems in operation.

A large public bike share system with 1,100 bicycles and 76 docking stations was recently launched in Budapest, Hungary. In this article, we look at that system, as a reference for the stalled progress to introduce a system in Vancouver. [Update: the one million rental mark was reached on November 5, 2015]

The bikes used in Budapest are based on technology delivered by the German firm NextBike. This firm has installed public bike share systems in several European countries, and in over 100 cities including Glasgow, Munich, Berlin, Warsaw, Riga and Zagreb. In 2013 we examined the bike share system in Vienna, which is based on a different supplier.

The City of Vancouver held a bike share system (request for expressions of interest) RFEOI way back in  2011. But plans for launching the program have been delayed several times. The majority party on Council finally approved a plan in July of 2013 to have Alta Bike Share run a system in Vancouver using equipment supplied by the now-bankrupt firm BIXI. The timeline for the installation has been pushed back over and over again. The last update on the City’s website is from July 23, 2013. Is it the City showing unwarranted loyalty to a supplier that can’t deliver the goods, and if so, why? Is it time for City Council to reevaluate the bike share plan and to issue a new tender?

Bike off standA number of lessons might be learned from bike share programs in other cities. The system that was rolled out in the Budapest has a major sponsor. It’s funded by the national petroleum company MOL in return for branding the bikes. The European Union also provided approximately $4 million (CAD equivalent) to help get the project off the ground, and the national government kicked in the remaining $800,000 (CAD equivalent).

How do the new bikes in Budapest ride? For the purpose of getting from one point to another point in the city, these bicycles do suffice, but won’t win any awards for performance. The bikes themselves are clunky and heavy, much like the rental bikes in Vienna.

The bikes have adjustable seats, 3 gears, and room for a basket. They have a headlamp that automatically turns on at night. It’s possible to lock up a bike mid-journey without putting it into a stall. The tires do not need to be pressurized, in contrast to normal bikes tires.

Half an hour of free use is permitted for ticket and cardholders. An interesting option allows one person to rent up to 4 bikes at once. A single 24-hour ticket costs around $2.25 CAD equivalent. Renting a bike for 30 to 60 minutes is another $2.25 CAD; there’s a full table of fares on the Budapest Transport Corporation website. The bike share system is administered by the transit authority — not by the city.

We’ve included a number of photos of the docking stations throughout the Budapest. The stations were all installed by May, and this was followed by months of beta testing. There were two rounds of public beta testing with 2,000 people in a heavily oversubscribed program that generated a lot of interest. A number of software glitches had to be fixed in the course of testing of proprietary software developed by T-Systems (a subsidiary of T-Com / T-Mobile). A lesson learned is it’s best to use software that’s already deployed.Budapest bike share stations

A total of 76 sites with docking stations are distributed throughout the city’s core. The stations have “bells and whistles” like solar powered panels. Sometimes all docking stations are filled, and in this case returned bike can be locked to one of the extra green stands near the docking station. It’s possible to make use of a rental bike for up to 30 minutes free, return it to a station, wait 10 minutes, and rent another bike again. Helmet use in Hungary is optional; some cyclists actually do wear helmets (as pictured in the photos below).

The system proposed for Vancouver would include helmet vending machines. The helmets would be sanitized; the staff report dated June 14, 2013 has further details. Apparently $60,000 was spent building a helmet distribution prototype. BC provincial laws require cyclists to wear helmets; as well the city has its own bylaws that require helmets.

If the province were to allow cyclists riding rental bikes to ride without a helmet, then the requirements for a helmet vending system could be removed in Vancouver. Another option for the City is to consider is to not provide helmets, but have cyclists bring their own. There could even be an understanding that cyclists riding rental bikes without a helmet won’t be ticketed within city limits. Or alternatively, the bike share operator could just make the helmet distributions system work as they are supposed to. The system in Vancouver is supposed to “consist of 1,500 bikes with 2,850 docks at 125 stations located within the Metro Core.” While the “Phase II launch [was] targeted for Spring 2014,” there has been no movement by the City or by Alta to roll out the bike share system.

Other cities have leapfrogged Vancouver by introducing modern bike share systems. Vancouver will have to pick up the pace if it wants to earn credibility for its declared branding as “the world’s greenest city by 2020.” Perhaps some of the lessons learned in other cities might be applied locally improve or to re-think the bike share program.


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